August 31, 2005


Come dovreste sapere, l'uragano Katrina ha devastato parte della costa sud degli Stati Uniti - la cittá di Biloxi (Louisiana) é stata pressoché completamente distrutta, mentre buona parte di New Orleans é inondata. Mentre la perdita di vite umane smbra essere limitata (relativamente alla scala del disastro, ed il bilancio é ancora molto provvisorio) i danni materiali sono enormi e si ripercuoteranno per mesi. Ci sono anche centinaia di migliaia di supersiti e sfollati che hanno bisogno di acqua, cibo ed alloggio.

Gli Stati Uniti non sono certo un paese in via di sviluppo privo dei risorse e servizi, ma la situazione é senza dubbio grave, e non in via di miglioramento.

Per cui faró un appello, una tantum: le donazioni alla Croce Rossa Americana, Esercito della Salvezza (siti molto trafficati al momento) ed altre organizzazioni caritatevoli sono senza dubbio benvenute. Non siate avari.

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Weird Indeed 

Referral logs are like a big sewage filter: if you start to sift through what it collected, you can find the most incredible things. Here's the latest one, from the "Journal of Homosexuality":

This essay interrogates the colonial modernity of Anglo-Australian lesbian hegemony through an experimental text which plays with the aesthetics of cyberspace. Mobilizing the hypertext mark up language (HTML) form of the Internet, it spatializes the creative, the erotic, and the political landscape the vicissitudes of everyday life for a lesbian of Southeast Asian background living in Australia. "interface" performs as a tryst that drives the queer body politic through the postcolonial in-formations of color, race, gender and identity. This text bears indelible marks from multiple sites and sources: the charges of electronic conversations and etchings on the World Wide Web; the raw pulp of inner-urban graffiti scrawls; passionate voicemails, racist policies in queer venues; fury banner posts; luscious lesbian cinema screenings; sexy fantasy malls, and fleshy style shopping.

You can find it with this search string - and I swear on the Google cache I never wrote about "transparent pvc shit" in the same post. And you can imagine what sort of stuff the other search results are. However, if the above inane, post-modernist drivel is what passes for "scholarly and professional" material, we're even worse than I imagined.

Who searched for that string was in France and using a French ISP, LDCOM Networks with dynamic IP.

Yes, I know, there are more important and tragic things happening in the world right now, but I'll write about them if I'll find the proper inspiration.

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August 29, 2005

The Japanese Version 

This is one of those things I cannot really resist to. I found in my referrals that someone tried to translate my blog in Japanese using Yahoo.jp's translator.

This is the result.

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August 28, 2005

Successful Recycling 

I have already expressed my skepticism regarding the recycling of plastics, especially when this is seen as a way to Save the World. But other materials can and are recycled with much more success.

One of the best ones is steel, but this is true for almost all metals.

Most metals (excluding the precious ones) are normally found as oxides and other salts, and in order to extract the metal a reduction step is required - after having mined and processed the ore, which can require pretty big amounts of energy. Iron oxides can be reduced using carbon under the form of coal in monstruous facilities called blast furnaces. Coal is reasonably cheap, but steelmaking consumes huge amounts of coal, and oil and natural gas in side-operations. Scrap steel is already reduced, so it takes only a relatively small quantity of carbon to melt and process it in special furnaces which can use the fuel directly, or are electrically fired.

Copper is produced in a similar fashion, as are other metals. Aluminium is different: its oxides cannot be reduced with carbon, so an electrolytic process has been developed to reduce molten aluminium salts. It's neat, but it requires an awful lot of electricity. Other useful metals such as Nickel and Titanium require peculiar processes too.

It is pretty easy to separate steel from other metals using magnets, and scrap metals do not require to be cleaned before processing, because at their melting temperatures, even for low-melting metals, all impurities will burn and/or melt forming slag that floats on the molten bath. Given that the formation of some slag is already taken into account (indeed, slag is often necessary), there are no particular problems with the presence of impurities. Different metals may stratify spontaneously in the melt due to their density (aluminium tend to go in the slag) and can thus be separated.

Steel is already so cheap that (big) scrap steel traders often don't bother to deal with small quantities, but if you've got a steel bridge to knock down, or an old ship to dispose of, they'll be happy to help. When I was younger and skint, I made a little extra money by recovering copper and a bit of lead from old, scrapped electrical cables. Metals are also much denser than plastics (if you exclude unpressed aluminium cans, which traders are unwilling to accept) so transportation is less of a problem.

Glass (the common variety) is produced by melting together siliceous sand and soda (plus a small amount of other additives) at 1200 C: eventual impurities will again form slag. The situation is a bit more complicated, tho: in order to produce recycled clear glass you have to use rather pure clear glass as a raw material, and separating glass by colour is feasible but not really trivial. Mixed glass will produce a green or brown material, which has a quite vast market anyway. Recycling of waste and defective products is something that glassworks already do internally from a long time.

Also paper can be recycled with good results. Paper is made mainly from wood (nowadays, fir or poplar trees that are cultivated for that specific reason) which is first ground with water in a fine pulp; the pulp is then bleached, if required added of fillers etc and finally pressed into a thin sheet while being dried. Scrap paper is pulped and the pulp processed in the same way - it only rquires a little more bleaching. Recycled paper is usually greysh or brownish, but this is not a big problem for packaging purposes. If a better look is required, a sheet of virgin paper and one of recycled material can be pressed together. Also paper is being recycled from a long time; factories, printhouses, returned/defective magazines and books are all sources of sizable amounts of scrap paper and cardboard that can be pressed in bales, shipped to a paper mill and promptly recycled.

Update 30/08: There is another reason that makes recycling metals and glass more successful than recycling plastics. While polymers always undergo a certain degradation during recycling, metals do not - because they are elements, not molecules. Glass is made of molecules, but these are thermally stable. The crystal structure of steel will be lost with melting, but if a prticular crystal structure is required (in the case of high performance steels or aluminium alloys) it will be produced subjecting the alloys to the appropriate thermo-mechanical treatments, whatever the origin of the same alloys is. Finally, glass has no crystal structure to speak of.

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Western otaku out here often have issues with the improper translation of anime dialogue - especially in subtitles. Not only subtitles often fail to convey the fine meaning of Japanese (that's understandable; some features of Japanese are unique to that language), but sometimes they almost make no sense.

I spotted an example of vary bad translation in Ghost In The Shell: Standalone Complex. It's in Episode 14 (¥€$ ) at timestamp 11:35. Major Kusanagi orders a Tachikoma to switch on its optothermal camouflage and follow her, and the Tachikoma replies "Yaya!" (or something like that, in Japanese) saluting with its robotic arm.

Tachikomas usually reply with a simple "Ai!" (Yes madam/sir!) or something quite informal, and that strange reply leaves Kusanagi dumbfounded and wondering what's going on with the Tachikomas (and watch Episode 15 to know).

Yaya! is translated with "Aye, aye Major!", which is the expression used by the US Marines. I don't know enough of Japan(ese) to tell whether Yaya is a special salute or what, but within that context the Marine expression makes sense.

But the subtitle says "I don't want to", which is a nonsense. First, the Tachikoma does obey the order a second later. Second, the Major would react differently to an open insubordination.

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August 27, 2005

What People Like 

Pictures of good-looking girls (and hunks, too) in skimpy clothes.

I think it has been like this since the Babylonian age, at least.

So, a great part of my 60 - 80 daily visits are of people searching for pictures, and of Chiaki Kuriyama in particular. And many of these visits come from Japan, understandably (it seems she's having a wild success over there)- but someone from Baghdad, using the usmc.mil (United States Marines Corp) domain was searching for Chiaki too. What I noticed from my website stats, however, is that some people come here looking for bare skin, but then stay to take a look around, hopefully enjoying my articles.

60 - 80 visits per day may seem like a pitiful traffic, but I'm pretty comfortable with it: it does not bring trolls in my cyber realm, and I do not feel pressured to provide a top-class service to my readers. I want my blogging to be as stress-free as possible, and up to now it has been like that.

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August 25, 2005

To Pick Or Not To Pick? 

I just read the latest DenBeste's (20050824) article on airplane design (inspired by the anime Porco Rosso) and I am torn: should I write my own article to correct some imprecision in his, or not? I know he hates nitpicking, but I spotted some statements rather off the mark - however, the overall meaning of that article does not change.

Update: I decided to go on with this, but more than a criticism my piece will be an integration.

Is a V engine an inline one? I think technically they're two different things, but it is also true that a V engine has two banks of cylinders in line. And both these engines are radically different from the radial ones - that's what matters.

The turbine blades of jet engines can be cooled (this may be a relatively new development) circluating cooler air in tiny channels inside the blade itself, but what is cooling is a relative concept: blades working at 1500 C are cooled by a circulation of air at 600 C, I have read - enough to glow dull red anyway. Modern turbine blades are single crystals of nickel silicide ceramic, covered with a thermal barrier layer presenting extreme resistance to high temperatures (alumina or similar materials). Turbine blades are very advanced objects with extreme performance; the materials available during WWII were much less performing. I happen to know a woman who did her PhD on turbine blades, by the way.

Steven's point, that an airplane design is based on the available propulsion systems (and that fantasy authors often get these things wrong) is valid nonetheless. There could be no Boeing 777 without the gigantic and impressive GE90 engines.

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August 24, 2005

Tipo E Grado 

Non mancherá mai il bisogno di ribadire per l'ennesima volta le basi della logica e del ragionamento razionale, quelle necessarie per formare una proposizione convincente.

Noto fin troppo spesso, da ogni parte dello schieramento, terribili mancanze in questo campo e ragionamenti che lasciano molto a desiderare. La mancanza di logica mi stupisce meno quando viene da Sinistra, considerato che alcune delle filosofie piú apprezzate a sinistra - come il postmodernismo - negano valore universale alla logica. Però anche da Destra errori e confusione non mancano.

Come si definisce la differenza fra due (o piú) oggetti, idee o qualunque altra cosa?

Le differenze in genere rientrano in una delle due categorie: tipo o grado.

Una differenza di tipo é quella che passa fra aerei e navi: i velivoli sono costruiti per muoversi attraverso l'aria essendo sostenuti dalle forze esercitate dall'aria che si muove ad alta velocitá intorno alle ali.

Le navi, invece, galleggiano sull'acqua (una parte variabile del volume di una nave si trova sotto il pelo dell'acqua comunque) e sono tenute a galla dalla spinta idrostatica, che é un fenomeno statico.

Anche a prima vista navi ed aerei sono completamente diversi; le esigenze e specifiche di progetto sono ugualmente distanti - sulle navi, i problemi di peso sono secondari, mentre in aeronautica la ricerca della leggerezza diventa quasi ossessiva. Quindi le navi sono fatte ancora in gran parte di (relativamente) economico acciaio*, mentre solo poche parti degli aerei sono costruite con acciaio (ad alta resistenza); il resto é fatto di alluminio, magnesio, titanio, polimeri e ceramica.

La differenza di grado invece é quella che passa fra un Cessna biposto ed un Boeing 747, oppure fra uno yacht da 12 metri ed una superpetroliera da 250 000 tonnellate. Cambiano le dimensioni e la massa, ed anche la funzione di tutti questi mezzi (e quindi certe esigenze di progetto), ma tutti gli aerei sono fatti per volare e tutte le navi per galleggiare.

Questa classificazione, comunque, non é perfetta; é abbastanza facile da applicare nel caso di cose, ma diventa piú arduo utilizzarla per le idee. Ci sono poi casi intermedi, dove il confine fra differenza di tipo e grado diventa sfumato (che dire di un idroplano o di questi aerei?) Altre volte, una differenza di grado é talmente enorme da diventare di tipo: per citare DenBeste, decriptare messaggi cifrati richiede soltanto brutale potenza di calcolo (in pratica, si procede per tentativi). Anche i piú potenti computer attuali richiederebbero giorni per decriptare certi messaggi, e la nostra tecnologia non é ancora abbastanza avanzata da costruire computer che possano risolvere questo problema in pochi minuti.

Ora, non sono in grado di descrivere come applicare queste categorie ad ogni caso reale che si possa incontrare, questo esercizio é lasciato ai lettori. Ma almeno, ricordate che la distinzione esiste.

* Giá da acluni anni, molte barche e natanti di piccole o medie dimensioni sono costruite in vetroresina od alluminio, per non menzionare il classico legno.

Kind and Degree

While discussing with people from any coordinates of the political surface, I realized tham many still have a poor understanding of logic and rational reasoning. I somewhat expect it from postmodernist leftists, but fallacies and confusion can and do come from the Right as well.

How do you define the difference between things? In my opinion, differences can either be of kind or degree.

To make an example, the difference between ships and airplanes is one of kind: planes are designed and built to fly through air, while ships float in the sea. Planes must have a very light structure, but ships do not necessarily need to.

But if you take a two-seater Cessna and a Boeing 747 (or a fishing boat and a Very Large Crude Tanker), the difference between these two is one of degree: they're both planes (or ships), but vary greatly in size (and also shape, a little) and functions.

As it happens often, this classification is not so clear-cut: in certain cases, it is hard to see which kinf of difference there is (how do you classify an ekranoplane, for example?) - especially when considering things as flimsy as ideas. In other cases a difference of degree can be so huge to become one of kind.

I can't give you a charter for the application of these distinctions to any case you may face, but I can just make you aware of the fact that the distinction exists.

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Back In Black 

Yes, I'm back in London and on fast Internet connections. So I can resume my blogging activity soon. I left a colder and damper than usual Italian summer - to come here and find a weather cool and damp even for a British summer, for god's sake!

Well, more posting later.

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August 16, 2005

Entertaining Policies 

I'm writing this post off-line in order to overcome the difficulties posed by the dial-up connection I am using at the moment, so let's see how it works.

I realized I do not want to politicize my choice of entertainment. I do not want to choose my music, films, books etc only on the basis of the author's political stance. If I find something interesting and entertaining I will appreciate it, even if it is in disagreement with my opinions.

There can already be enough dullness and boredom in life to cast away my chances for good entertainment. Also, I don't want to end up in an echo chamber and never hear different opinions; that's an intellectual vegetative state.

Of course, I exercise some selection. Generally, I find works trying to preach overly uninteresting. Same for political propaganda of any flavour. When it comes to music, I can easily ignore the lyrics and concentrate on the sound; that's why I can listen to Rage Against The Machine and enjoy the music - but I find their lyrics pretty ridiculous.

In general, what I like are good stories, with believable and real protagonists. With the occasional excursion into mindless action when I feel like that - Schwarzenegger anyone? When I have a good story and interesting characters, I don't really mind even if they veer quite to the left - or right, or whatever. I can identify with some characters, despise others, dream of living the same story - or a totally different one. At the end of Star Wars: Episode 3, the most prominent thought in my mind was how to get home for the night. After watching Sin City, I was thinking what I would do if put in the same situations. If I had been Marv, I'd have used a chainsaw.
I also liked early X-Files: it was good, gripping and entertaining - even if full of paranormal and conspirational delusions.

I don't think propaganda works can be good stories, generally. Reality often does not give us the desired outcome, and things just happen regardless of their moral value. The bad guys can and do win, too. For a didascalic story, instead, you need things to go in a certain way, and often this requires plot contrivances. And a high dose of rethoric, and taking yourself very seriously. I prefer stories that grasp the complexity of reality.

Now, works of fiction are not reality - they try to put us in a more desiderable reality, instead (when you're living a dull life as an office clerk, even a fierce firefight may look more desiderable, for a little while). But there is a limit to the level of contrivance and suspension of disbelief I can accept. If a work of fiction, for any reason, crosses that limit, almost automatically that work joins my crap list.

From my own experience, it is the Left that tries to push its own agenda through any means - films, music, books, art (but a lot of lefty "art" is just rubbish for me); that was even in Gramsci's plans. The first time I watched Bowling For Columbine I found it quite interesting, but then I realized how false and manipulative Michael Moore is and I wrote that movie off. Moore was doing propaganda, not an earnest documentary - even if misguided - and pretended to be telling the truth. I watched Alexander, and found it plain boring. Also irritating for its insistence on homosexual themes although I don't think it qualifies as pro-homosexuality propaganda (people tend to see what they want to see, anywhere); it's more a distorted vision of that epoch. But Alexander the Great was a warrior, a man who made conquest his reason to exist and indeed conquered an immense empire. He was not a whiny, eternally undecided metrosexual chap for god's sake!

Not that the Right and other sides do not do propaganda, anyway - a lot of Chuck Norris' movies are just like that. But a good fight to the death is too entertaining for me, that's my weakness.

Ultimately it is a matter of style and content, and I take both into account but I have no fixed rules for their relative importance. Sometimes in my preferences content trumps style, sometimes it's the other way around and other times style and content have the same weight.

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August 08, 2005

Cold Summer 

Well folks, I'm at home, having wonderful food and generally an easy time. I had my parties and some time out in the woods. The weather is sunny as a summer should be.

But there is a major drawback: a gentle wind is blowing from the East - the Tramontana, the last whiffs of the Buran, the harsh and frigid wind of the Siberian plains - and this makes nights rather chilly - just above 10 °C for god's sake! And the ground is dust-dry, not a single wild mushroom in sight.

And I also sprained again my ankle (an awkward fall while exploring a remote stream), so I must rest. The glass is just half-full, dammit!

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August 03, 2005


The title is Mandarin, and it means... "See you later", simply.

Tomorrow I'll fly home finally for a couple of weeks of holiday. Amply deserved in my opinion. I will still post occasionally, however.

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In order to counter the excessive population growth, in the late 1970s (more or less) the Chinese government decided to allow only one child per family - having more requires the payment of a hefty fee.

This policy, coupled with the preference for male kids strongly radicated in the Chinese culture caused a serious demographic imbalance: in China, there are several million males more than females.

Last night on BBC (during the ads within CSI) I saw a documentary dealing exactly with this issue, and I learnt that Chinese authorities started a program aimed at reducing this imbalance. Specifically, couples which have a female as their first child are allowed to a second one, and there are benefits for young daughters to make them study and have better prospects in life, and benefits for parents as well.

Now, will this plan eventually overcorrect causing China to have an excess of women? I can only hope...

One of the families featured in the documentary comprised a blind father. The subtitles at one point said "Being disabled, I cannot get a job..."
Now, I have a hard time believing that a bloke from a poor village in inner China used the Mandarin equivalent of "disabled" - if it even exists. Also from what I've learnt, Chinese tend to be pretty blunt; they don't use many niceties of speech. Another politically correct job from BBC?

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Aggiunte #2 

Sto per andare in vacanza (a casa, nulla di speciale), quindi ecco qualche aggiunta alla mia sezione blog italiani.

Metallium, per la gioia delle orecchie d'acciaio.
Mimetica e Mostrine, il blog di un sottufficiale di carriera dell'Esercito Italiano.
Zigurrat, un altro cittadino di Tocqueville.

Per le prossime due settimane abbondanti saró molto impegnato, a cazzeggiare, andare in giro per feste e monti... quindi il blog procederá a ritmo molto ridotto.

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August 01, 2005

Drop The Mask 

One of the measures contained in the anti-terrorism bill approved by the Italian parlament in the last days is more serious fines and eventually arrest for people wearing face-concealing garments in public places - particularly, burqas and other Islamic attires.

This law is actually nothing new: the basis for the Italian Public Security laws were written in 1931 (yes, during Fascism) and have been modified only slightly - no it is not a fascist bill anyway. Article 85, as its last revision of 2003, says:

It is forbidden to wear masks in public places.
It is forbidden to wear masks in theatres and other public exercises except when and within the terms communicated by the local Public Security authority.

Transgressors will be punished with a fine within Lire 20 000
and 200 000. (Translation mine)

The newest bill only increased the fine (to 2000 Euro) and authorized imprisonment as punishment for wearing face-concealing garments when not authorized. This law has been a non-issue for a long time in Italy. Yes, we had riots, but rioters would conceal their identity anyway, law or not.

These modifications to the law were proposed by a Senator belonging to the nationalist party Lega Nord (Northerh League)* on the basis that those coming to Italy must conform to the local culture, and it cannot be allowed for people to break the law on religious grounds.

There are already cries of racism coming from the left side of the aisle, but they are unjustified.

First, this law does not ban any and all Islamic garb, but only those covering the face; the hijab (headscarf) is clearly allowed.

Second and most important, this law bans any concealment of someone's face: helmets, balaclavas, masks, burqas etc. It meets the requirements of objective equality, and thus it is not a racist or discriminatory law.

Now, we just can hope that this decision will be enforced properly, because the chronic problem in Italy is not lack of laws, but poor enforcement of them.

* More than being nationalist, the Northern League has among its objectives to create an indipendent state in northern Italy, or at least switch to a strongly federal system. I think that the idea of secession of the North is ridiculous, but I'm all in favour of a decentralized, bottom-up government system.

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